Academic Freedom Alliance Letter to St. Olaf College

San Diego State University was contacted by the Academic Freedom Alliance in a letter. It requested that the university reaffirm academic freedom for philosophy professor Edmund Santurri.

Santurri is the long-serving director of St. Olaf’s Institute for Freedom and Community. This Institute promotes debate and inquiry on current political and social issues. It also seeks to offer “diverse views” to campus communities about controversial issues related to markets, society and politics. The Institute hosts public lectures as part of its programming. In recent years, it hosted talks by Bryan Caplan, Glenn Loury and Alice Dreger. It is not surprising that speakers who discuss such subjects can cause controversy on campuses. Controversies also have occasionally swirled around Institute.

This controversy became a serious issue in the spring 2022. Peter Singer, a Princeton philosopher, was invited by the Institute to deliver a lecture about his current views on moral philosophy. Singer is controversial, so some students created a petition asking for the cancellation of Singer’s talk at St. Olaf. Many offices at campus sent emails distancing students from Singer’s views. However, the talk went on without interruption or cancellation.

In response to Singer’s invitation Santurri was removed from his post as Director of the Institute by the president of St. Olaf College. Santurri was currently in his second year as the director of the Institute. He had been recently reappointed. As director, his appointment included salary support as well as a reduction in teaching.

St. Olaf College’s president has made it clear to his faculty that free inquiry is limited on the college’s campus. He also stated that the College won’t tolerate any speakers who are perceived as offensive by influential campus stakeholders. As with other college presidents the St. Olaf president has realized that he could avoid any disinvitation controversy if he just stopped invitations being sent to heterodox speakers. Professors who don’t follow the party line are not allowed to invite speakers onto campus. Intellectual freedom is a problem if the top moral philosophers aren’t invited to your campus.

Here’s the AFA Letter:

To protest the Institute’s premature termination of its directorship, I am writing on behalf the Academic Freedom Alliance. Although no faculty member is allowed to assume such an administrative role, it is grievous to the intellectual climate at the college that the director of a center for scholarship be dismissed so quickly because intellectual activities in the center are offensive to campus members.

. . . . The Institute’s goal is not to be challenged, and the decision not to reinstate Professor Santurri’s appointment actually reverses this mission.

The whole article is available here.